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You Have to Eisegete the Text?

Paul Dean
Paul Dean

My daughter is majoring in music at a Christian college known for its academic rigor. Because it’s a Christian college, she has to take a number of Bible and theology classes, and rightly so.

Not too long ago, her Bible professor was going over 1 Thes. 4:13f and made this statement: “Now, those who hold to the amillennial position just don’t come to this text with the pre-tribulation rapture of the church in mind. And, I guess if you don’t come to the text with it already in mind, you won’t see it. But it’s there and you have to have it in mind in order to see it.” My daughter came home and posed these questions to me, “Dad, isn’t that the definition of eisegesis? Aren’t we supposed to figure out what the text actually says and not come to the text with our own ideas in mind and impose them on the text?” Indeed she’s right. It reminds me of a famous Bible teacher’s reply when asked why he held to a theological position on a certain issue that he could not support with verses from Scripture. “It’s in the white spaces,” he quipped, “you have to read between the lines.”

Now, that’s something that particular Bible teacher would never instruct others to do. We have no authority to believe or teach something we can’t support with Scripture. Regardless of your millennial position, the point is that you can’t come to the text with your presuppositions, theology, or agenda in mind. You can’t impose what you believe onto the text. That’s eisegesis.  Rather, you have to take the text for what it says. What did it mean to the original audience? That’s what it means today. Often it’s been said that a text can never mean what it never meant. We have to extract the meaning of the text out of its historical, grammatical, social, cultural, authorial, purposeful, situational, and literary context. That’s exegesis. And that’s what we’re supposed to do every time we come to the Scriptures.

As those who teach others, we have to be very careful about how we approach and teach the Word of God. We have to rightly divide the Word of Truth so as not be ashamed before God (2 Tim. 2:15) – or, second year music majors.

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Originally published November 30, 2012.

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